At the beginning of 2020, the Silver State’s clean energy sector was surging. Nearly 34,000 Nevadans were working in the sector, and the state’s clean jobs pool had grown 40% over a two-year period (2017-19), a boost of nearly 9,500 jobs, according to the Clean Jobs Nevada 2020 report by E2 (Environmental Entrepreneurs), a national nonpartisan business group. After five straight years of job growth, however, Nevada’s clean energy economy was upended after Gov. Steve Sisolak ordered business shutdowns and other restrictions in response to the pandemic. As of March 2021, more than 3,700 clean energy workers —11% of the workforce in Nevada — remain unemployed after losing their job amid the pandemic.
In Reno-Sparks, 27% of the area’s clean energy workers are without a job. In Las Vegas, the clean energy unemployment rate is at 31%, per E2’s report. U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto wants to not only ensure Nevada recovers those clean energy jobs, but also help the Silver State create thousands more. This was one of the Democratic senator’s talking points during an Aug. 23 meeting in Reno with more than 20 business leaders and developers in areas of renewable energy, battery recycling and conservation. Cortez Masto said the $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure package, which passed in the U.S. Senate but awaits approval in the House, will advance efforts to grow the clean energy sector in Nevada and nationwide. Cortez Masto noted she helped the state secure $6 billion for a battery manufacturing and recycling grant program and $4 billion in electric vehicle charging grant funding.
Paul Thomsen, vice president of business development at Ormat Technologies, discusses challenges with the lengthy federal permitting process at the Aug. 23 roundtable. Photo: Kaleb M. Roedel
“The goal here is to make these big, bold investments in the economy of the 21st century, which is the clean (energy) economy,” she said. “Not only is it good for the planet, but it creates jobs, it’s good for our economy. Nevada is at the forefront of this, we really are. This is our story to tell. We are an innovation state.” Part of that innovation, Cortez Masto said, is bringing the critical minerals supply chain back to the U.S., which would also create more jobs in mining states like Nevada. “We are competing with China and competing with other countries that really are not a benefit to us economically,” she said. “So, we want to have a competitive advantage.” In 2019, China was responsible for 80% of rare earth imports, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Success in rivaling China in the rare earths market is dependent on whether the U.S. can quickly scale up processing and refining after the resources have been mined, as well as compete on cost with a processing market that’s heavily dominated by China. With that in mind, Doug Hamilton, head of policy at American Battery Technology Company — which hopes to break ground soon on a 60,000-square-foot lithium-ion battery recycling facility in Fernley — suggested the senator work at the federal level to help create requirements. Hamilton said requiring battery manufacturing in the U.S. to have a “certain percentage” of U.S. processed critical minerals would “really boost the recycling and extraction industry.” “I agree that we have to be globally competitive,” he said. “But at the same token, we really need to encourage our manufacturers here to use the resources that we have here, even if, temporarily, they might be a little bit more expensive.” The roundtable held at the Reno + Sparks Chamber of Commerce also saw developers in solar, wind and geothermal voice frustrations with lengthy permitting process on federal lands. Paul Thomsen, vice president of business development at Ormat Technologies, said the Reno-based geothermal company is developing projects “as fast as they can,” but the lengthy permitting process is slowing the state’s renewable energy growth. “From a federal perspective, we have the market, we have committed developers in the state,” Thomsen said. “We need to accelerate permitting.” Lucas Ingvoldstad, director of business development and government affairs at Eolus North America, agreed. The Southern California-based renewable energy company is working to develop wind energy projects in Nevada. “Permitting is really the key piece for us,” he said. “We can have good resources located in areas that have minimal or a low amount of habitat conflicts, but moving it forward at a permitting level is really what’s taking away from progress.” Meanwhile, according to an Aug. 23 report from the Associated Press, Republican Adam Laxalt — who is challenging Cortez Masto in next year's election — said he opposes the infrastructure bill because of its price tag and scope beyond traditional infrastructure like roads and bridges.
Cortez Masto noted Republican support for the bill and said Laxalt's position wouldn't help bolster Nevada's economy.
"If you're against this bipartisan infrastructure package, then you're against new jobs for Nevada and economic growth in Nevada," she said.
Of note, Cortez Masto was scheduled to appear at the Aug. 23 event in Reno with fellow Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. But Manchin, who chairs the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, had his travel plans thwarted by the wildfire smoke blanketing Northern Nevada.